Fit Leadership

Tis the season to resolve toward leading a fitter lifestyle. Investing in a gym membership, ordering a fresh new pair of workout shoes, and flipping through a Muscle and Fitness at the grocery store are efforts many of us are making as we seek a physically fitter 2016. These are worthwhile efforts, as physical well-being is important. According to Tom Rath, author of Well Being, “good physical health” is the most desirable status for people when asked the question, “what do you want the future to hold for you?” We each have one body; we better take care of it. Our leadership well-being is also something to take of. We have one shot to lead, so we better know what to do with it. The following principles will help us become fit leaders, ready to take on the challenges of the new year and maximize our school’s potential.

Principles of Fit Leadership

Goal-Setting–Professional athletes, to those of us just looking to lose a few pounds, do best when they set clear, specific, tangible goals.  Arnold Schwarzenegger always thought he could be the most dominant bodybuilder on the face of the earth, but it didn’t just happen by chance. At 19, Arnold already had the most massive chest and arms in the game of bodybuilding, but he took runner-up in major, international competitions to competitors who had tree trunk legs to match their thick and chiseled upper bodies. With clear, specific goals to improve his lower body, Arnold turned his peg legs into pillars of strength and size, which allowed him to become Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia and stay there for six straight competitions.

The Terminator teaches us a valuable lesson here. Sure, we may have the talent necessary to be outstanding school leaders, putting our schools on our backs and carrying them to the Super Bowl of 100% parent-satisfaction and record-setting test scores. I’m being facetious here, folks. However,  seriously, we will never be the best leaders we can potentially be without clear, specific, and tangible goals. Where do we need to improve? Providing teachers with personalized professional learning opportunities? Engaging, involving, and empowering parents as partners in their children’s education? Using formative assessment data to guide instruction so that students’ unique learning needs are met? Clear, specific, and tangible goals (ones that we can and actually will pursue!) will help us become fitter leaders.

Collaborate–Find a workout partner! Collaborating in the gym leads us to train harder, achieve better results, and, believe it or not, actually enjoy the experience! Professional Learning Networks do the same for school leaders! George Couros shares that “isolation is the enemy of innovation.” Without a tribe pumping us up, we’re relegating ourselves to the same ideas that have gotten us minimal results. Find a tribe and unlock your leadership potential!
Habitual–Physical activity has to become routine to have an impact. So do many effective leadership practices. We can’t do one walk-through and proclaim ourselves Instructional Leaders. We also can’t tweet once a week and proclaim ourselves Connected Educators. Working out cannot be a singular act if it’s going to impact or SAVE our lives. Leadership is also NOT a singular act. It’s a passion that is developed over time through the habitual exercise of effective practice.

Mirror-Check–There is a reason mirrors adorn the walls of health clubs. We need to see ourselves morphing into the fit body we’re working so hard to develop. We also need to see the lack of progress if we’ve been skipping out on workouts. The mirror sometimes affirms and sometimes it disappoints, but it never lies. In the mirror, the truth comes out. How beneficial would a mirror-check be for us as leaders? Regularly stepping up and looking in the mirror provides us with an authentic picture of reality. To be fit leaders, we mustn’t hide from reality; we must embrace it, reflect on what we see, and then create a vision of what’s to come.

Adapt–Been doing the eliptical for three weeks and still out of breath when you climb the stairs to your second floor office? Then stop! Been emailing staff links like “50 Free Google Apps!” and you see no difference in frequency of tech integration among teachers? Then stop! To achieve optimal results, we must adapt our workout regimens to fit our bodies’ current needs. To achieve optimal results as a school leader, we must adapt our leadership regimens to fit our staff’s current needs.
Overtraining–There is such a thing. Overtraining happens when an athlete performs more training than his or her body can recover from, to the point where performance declines. When athletes jump too quickly with the frequency, intensity or duration of their workouts, they may actually lose strength and speed. Overtraining is a serious monkey wrench to those who work arduously toward fulfilling their physical fitness potential. Overtrained athletes keep working harder, but don’t see results and eventually burn themselves out. Can a similar phenomenon occur among leaders? Can leaders actually “overlead?” YES! When staying late at the office results in zero change in our staff or student body, then we need to go home earlier. When working on the 2016 master schedule now results in a 2016 that is no different than 2003, then we need to chill. We are all guilty of “overleading.” We need to take a break and harness the power of white space as we seek a fitter year of leadership in 2016.

My #leadupchat tribesman, Dr. Ryan Jackson, and I have had fun connecting over the past year. He’s a gym rat like myself, and we’ve been chewing on the idea of  Fit Leadership for a while now.  Please post thoughts anad pictures to #FitLeaders.  Thank you for reading and seeing the connections between fitness and leadership. Whether it’s at school or the gym or BOTH, may 2016 be the fittest year ever for you!